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Women’s track squad shows mettle, promise with Drake Relays showing

DES MOINES, Iowa – On Friday afternoon at the Drake Relays, Minnesota’s women’s track and field team came

out and set a school record in the distance medley relay, breaking the old mark by more than 16 seconds.

Then under the lights that night at Drake Stadium, the Gophers’ 4-by-800-meter relay team smashed another school record, one that had stood for 23 years.

The kickers? Both relay teams consisted of four different runners. All but one of them were underclassmen – and five of them were freshmen.

To cap the distance relay weekend, Minnesota’s 4-by-1,600 team, with three underclassmen including two freshmen, broke the Drake Relays’ record in the event, winning the race in 19 minutes, 10.92 seconds.

That not only speaks volumes about the quality and depth of this year’s team, but also paints an incredibly rosy picture for the future of the Minnesota program.

“Coming off high school training, you still need a year to adjust to the college atmosphere,” sophomore Ladia Albertson-Junkans, part of the 4-by-1,600 and 4-by-800 teams, said of the freshmen. “Hopefully one year later you’re a lot faster.”

If freshman Heather Dorniden, the NCAA indoor 800-meter champion this year, gets much faster, she’ll be clocking subzero times.

Dorniden caught a Missouri runner during the second leg of the 4-by-1,600 and turned a small deficit into a somewhat substantial lead. She also ran a strong 1,600 meters, anchoring the distance medley relay’s second-place finish.

Impressive performances for the NCAA champion at an event half that distance.

And it’s all the more outstanding considering it was her first Drake Relays. Now that she’s adding 1,600 successes to her already stellar 800 résumé, she is setting herself up for a career as a Gophers legend.

Freshman Jamie Cheever, the leadoff runner for the 4-by-800 and 4-by-1,600, also had a strong weekend in her first Drake Relays.

Cheever got the Gophers into the lead pack in Friday night’s 4-by-800-meter race, then set up Saturday’s record run with a solid opening 1,600 that put Minnesota in the lead pack with Missouri and Michigan.

“It’s pretty exciting,” Cheever said. “My mom ran here when she was in college so she was really excited to come and see me. It was a really fun event.”

The Drake Relays could become even more fun in the future when the young squad notches more experience – and likely piles on more titles.

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